“Indian headdresses” and blackface art on display at the Alternator gallery
What: Exhibition — What does it mean to be The Problem?
Who: UBC’s Fern Helfand, with responses from Tannis Nielson and Samuel Roy-Bois
When: Friday, January 8 through Thursday, February 18
Where: Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, Rotary Centre, 421 Cawston Avenue
With a display that will intentionally stir up controversy, UBC artists along with staff at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, hope to open the door to discussion about racism with the upcoming exhibition, What does it mean to be The Problem.
Copied from her family archive, UBC Assoc. Prof. Fern Helfand, who teaches photography in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, presents a life-sized photograph of a group of children at a costume party taken in 1961. In the picture, a young Caucasian boy’s cheeks are streaked with war paint as he proudly dons a feathered indigenous war bonnet. A little girl’s face is coloured black with chocolate Nesquik powder, and a black-skinned inflatable “Hug-a-Bug” doll dangles from her hand.
Fellow UBC Okanagan artists of mixed heritages, Tannis Nielsen and Samuel Roy-Bois, respond from their own perspectives to the exhibition’s central image. Issues of cultural appropriation, stereotyping, racism, and privilege aim to challenge the viewer and to prompt people to think about how they too might be implicated no matter how innocent their actions might be.
What does it mean to be The Problem runs from Friday, January 8 through Thursday, February 18 at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 421 Cawston Avenue, Kelowna, with an opening reception on January 8 at 7 p.m. The catered event is free and open to the public. Also at the venue, there will be an AlterKnowledge public discussion forum on racism and privilege Friday, January 15 at 7 p.m.
The Okanagan arts community is invited to creatively respond to the exhibition with their own artwork. An exhibition of these submissions will be mounted in the gallery February 5 to 20. More information is available at bit.do/helfand.
The artist-run Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art is a registered non-profit charitable organization dedicated to the development of the creative community. Since 1989, the Alternator has shown the work of emerging Canadian artists, focused on innovative and non-traditional mediums engaged in social and cultural issues.